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Christianity / Orientations / Roman Catholic / Eastern Rite /
Maronite Church

Maronites by country
Last column: % Maronites of the population
Egypt 5,000 <0.1%
Israel 7,000 0.1%
Lebanon 850,000 27.0%
Syria 50,000 0.3%
910,000 0.2%
Other countries 650,000

*) Calculated for the total population of North Africa and the Middle East, approx. 460,000,000.

Hariza, the headquarters of the Maronite faith, north of Beirut, Lebanon.
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Hariza, the headquarters of the Maronite faith, north of Beirut, Lebanon. Photo: austinevan.

Maronite church in Bcharré, Lebanon.
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Maronite church in Bcharré, Lebanon.

Decorations in the ceiling in the Maronite church in Hadet el-Jebbé, Lebanon.
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Decorations in the ceiling in the Maronite church in Hadet el-Jebbé, Lebanon.

Christian community, centred to Lebanon, and affiliated to the Roman Catholic Church as part of the Eastern Rite. There are also smaller groups in Palestine and Syria, as well as in Cyprus and the USA.
Their total number is about 1,5 million, of which about 800,000 live in Lebanon. This means that 60% of all Maronites live in Lebanon, and that they represent 25% of the country's population. According to the Lebanese constitution, the president of the country shall be a Maronite Christian.
In Syria about 40,000 Maronites live, headed by the archdioceses of Aleppo and Damascus, and the Diocese of Latakia.
Over centuries, the Maronites lived isolated in the mountains, where religion came to play an important part in all aspects of their lives. In modern times, they have become much more urban and represent an important part of the population in Lebanon's largest cities.
The spiritual head of the Maronites is the Patriarch of Antioch, who actually resides no longer in Antakya (now Turkey) but in Jounieh north of Beirut.
The liturgy was developed inside the Maronite Church prior to the affiliation to Rome in the 12th century, but Roman Catholic elements have been introduced. Even in modern times Syriac language is used for the services, even though the Maronites use Arabic as the vernacular tongue.
The Maronites claim to be within Orthodox theology, but this is not always true. From the 7th century, they became supporters of the doctrines of the patriarch of Constantinople Sergius, who claimed that Jesus had no human qualities, only divine (called Monothelite).
Celibacy is not a prerequisite for the Maronite clergy, but is regulated according to local traditions.

Early 5th century: The hermit Maron (now St. Maron) living in northeast Syria fetches the attention of local Christians, and a group starts to develop around his domain. This group survives his death and gets more supporters, which soon are referred to as "Maronites".
Late 7th century With the arrival of Islam in Syria, the Maronites leave for the Lebanon mountains, under the leadership of Joannes Maro (or John Maron), their patriarch of Antioch. Over the following centuries, many other Christians flee to the same mountains, where they joined the Maronite Church.
12th century: The Maronites cooperate with the Crusaders in their battle against the Muslims.
1182: The Maronite Church gets part affiliation with the Catholic church, but is allowed to preserve its liturgy and keep the organization with a Patriarch in Lebanon.
1585: The Maronite College is established in Rome by the Pope and is administered by Jesuits. This becomes an important training centre for the church over the next 350 years.
1648: France declares itself protector of the Catholics living in the Ottoman Empire. From this time on, close ties have existed between France and the Maronites. This relationship would centuries later become one of the central foundations for the creation of the state of Lebanon.
1858: Maronite peasants rebel against the Maronite aristocracy, destroying their feudal privileges.
1860 May 31: After 2 years of tensions between Maronites and Druze, the Druze attack Maronite towns alike Hasbaiya, Bkassine and Jezzine, killing around 1,500 people.
June: Lebanon falls into a state of civil war, causing many more killed. The Ottoman rulers granted the Maronites autonomy, in order to make them feel safe. Still, the happenings this summer caused many Christians to emigrate to the Americas.
1920: The Maronites gets self rule under the French mandate.
1943: Lebanon gets its independence, and the constitution secures the Maronites the position of president.
1975-1990: Lebanese Civil War where the Maronites are one of the main groups. During most of this time, they are backed by Syria.

By Tore Kjeilen